Keeping Pets with Their Families: Pit Sisters Mobile Dog Training Program

Here at Animal Farm Foundation our grants program is constantly evolving to keep up with the changing needs in animal welfare. Where in the past we funded exclusively to “pit bull” specific programs, today our focus has shifted towards granting to programs that are inclusive of “pit bull” dogs, but are not exclusive to them. This approach reflects the many changes in animal welfare we’ve been a part of over the past two decades.

Today, programs that treat all dogs as individuals are the path to a better future for ALL dogs. One of the types of programs we’re most happy to see are ones in which a safety net is created for all pets within the community through the offering of a variety of owner support services.

Pit Sisters, one of grant award recipients, is doing just that! Their unique pilot program, Mobile Training, is offered in targeted areas of Jacksonville, FL where the highest rate of pet surrenders are generated from. Their Mobile Training Program provides dog training at no cost to the owners, so that families can keep their dogs at home, where they are wanted and loved, rather than surrendering them due to training issues.

We had the chance to talk with Jennifer Deane, founder of Pit Sisters, about their program.

AFF: Can you tell our readers about how the mobile training program works?

Pit Sisters: We work in partnership with two of our local shelters to determine the areas of town to focus in. We target the areas that have the highest numbers of dogs turned in to the shelters and we offer free training for families and their dogs. We constructed a book of training tips in conjunction with several area training experts that are easy to use and have lots of ideas for inexpensive solutions, including a treat suggestion sheet and toy suggestion sheet using everyday items.

Why did Pit Sisters decide to focus on supporting this particular area (dog training) of the human-canine bond in your community?

We decided to focus on training because we were receiving lots of emails from families who wanted to keep their dogs, but the dogs needed training. Hiring a trainer can be expensive and we know how important building the bond between the family and the family dog(s) is, so we decided to focus on training. There are no programs like ours in our community, so we felt that we could fill a gap with a much-needed service.


Your program does a great job of viewing all dogs and their families as individuals – no stereotypes or judgement allowed! Instead, you focus on getting to know their individual needs, so you can better address whatever issues might be barriers to the dogs staying in their homes.

How has that approach been helpful for you and your clients? Can you share how you’ve built trust between your program/trainers and the community you’re serving?

Building trust has been the most challenging part and we continue to work on that. I think what helps a lot is our partnerships with our local shelters and other animal welfare organizations, as well as local businesses. They help us to get the word out by distributing information and telling people about the program. One of the low cost animal clinics even gave us coupons for a free office visit for participants in our program. This is approach works incredibly well. All of our trainers have caring, nonjudgmental attitudes, and as such are well received by the community.

Can you share a success story with us?

Sure! We had a family with two dogs come to us – one of the dogs was highly reactive to other dogs and the other had separation anxiety. When we met the owners they were frustrated and didn’t know what to do. And they couldn’t afford to pay a trainer. Because of our program, they were able to get the help they needed. Our mobile trainer gave them advice and worked with both dogs. We met with the family for quite a bit and watched them practice the techniques that we taught them and then we followed up with them to see how things were going. The dogs are doing much better and the family is volunteering with us now as well!


If someone wanted to start a similar program in their community, what advice would you give them?

Form strong relationships with your local animal shelters and animal welfare organizations! Pit Sisters would like to help others start similar programs, so we’re willing to talk to anyone who may be interested in starting their own program. They can email us at for more information.



Thank you for talking with us Jen and for the great work you’re doing in your community! For more information about Pit Sisters, please visit their website. And for information about our Grants program, please visit the Animal Farm Foundation site.


Posted in Enrichment and Training, Programs and Events | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Capital Area Humane Society: Saving Lives With Open Minds

Last year we had the privilege of working with the staff at Capital Area Humane Society in Lansing, Michigan. In addition to sending staff members to our internships, CAHS also welcomed AFF to visit their shelter and provide more hands-on training.

We recently received an update from two staff members – Samantha Miller, Behavior Manager and Ashley Hetzner, Behavior Assistant – about the incredible progress that CAHS has made in the past year. Not only have they dropped all breed restrictions, but they’ve increased adoptions as well!

We asked Samantha and Ashley to tell us more about the big changes (and big successes) they’ve undergone recently:


AFF: Prior to now, were there any specific policies or restrictions that applied to the “pit bull” dog adoptions at CAHS?

CAHS: Yes, we had several policies that applied only to pit bulls.

1. We had a limit to the number of pit bulls that we could have up for adoption. No more than 20% of our adult dog population could be pit bull dogs.

2. All of our dogs go through a behavior evaluation process, but pit bulls had to go through extra steps. For a while we used an “ambassador dog” evaluation. But even after stopping that type of extra evaluation, pit bulls still had to test better than other dogs in order to go up for adoption. Certain behaviors meant automatic euthanasia only for pit bulls: dog aggression on leash, food/resource guarding, fear, aggression toward cats, or any type of aggressive-looking behaviors in the kennel (growling, lunging, showing teeth), to name a few. Other types of dogs could get away with the same behaviors.

3. Potential adopters had to fill out extra paperwork to be considered for a pit bull. There couldn’t be any concerns about their application. They had to be over 21 years old. They could not have any intact dogs in the home. They were required to bring in their children and dogs to meet the new dog (which was not always required for other dogs – although we eventually moved to requiring dog/child meets for all dogs). At one point we required the other dog in the home to be opposite sex.

4. We would occasionally make exceptions about landlord checks or other policies, but never for pit bulls.

5. After going through the extra paperwork, it was required to be approved by a supervisor. After that, a member of the behavior department would come and do a “pit bull consult” which went over dog aggression, dog parks, myths and stereotypes about pit bulls, how and why to get CGC certified/become a breed ambassador, and how they would have to be better dog owners than anyone else to make up for the stigma facing their dog.

6. We offered a free behavior consult with our staff for anyone adopting a pit bull that was having issues in the home.

7. All pit bulls were microchipped automatically. Other dogs were only microchipped if the adopter asked for it.

cahs dog desk

We spy AFF posters behind this cheeky dog!

How did these additional layers to the adoption process affect adopter’s perceptions of the “pit bull” dogs?

At the time we didn’t think it would affect their perception of the dogs! We figured if someone wanted a pit bull, they would understand that we felt we had a duty to protect them. Every once in awhile we would get a comment from someone supporting our policies, so that made us think we were on the right track.

We would say things like “pit bulls are no different than other dogs, but [then we would have different standards for adoption]…” and we thought just saying that made up for all the other things we were doing that implied pit bulls are different. Even after going to AFF a lot of the staff was skeptical.

However, since making changes we have come to realize what we were really saying to people who came to adopt a pit bull.

We have had many adopters who came back to us for a second dog, comment on how much faster, easier, and less intense our adoption process is now. We had one family that adopted a pit bull from us a year ago. They were so scared by what we had told them that they had never introduced their dog to another dog in case he was aggressive. They were nervous to bring him in for a meet-and-greet with the new dog for the same reason. The family asked questions like “we have to do x, y, and z because it’s a pit bull, right?”

They learned that nonsense from us! That really sealed it for me personally what a disservice we had done for these dogs for so long.

Our culture at the shelter has shifted toward one of understanding, acceptance, and open-mindedness.


cahs santa

Santa helped show off pets, like this handsome “pit bull” dog, who were up for adoption at CAHS this year

CAHS has made a lot of changes in the past year. For example, you recently dropped a variety of restrictions on all adoptions, such as requiring mandatory dog intros. Can you tell us more about those changes?

The past year has been really exciting and honestly a little scary – we have made so many changes. What I think is the most important change is that we stopped discriminating against pit bulls both in our behavior evaluation and our adoption process. There are no more requirements for them to pass our behavior evaluation than any other dog. We have since had pit bulls up for adoption with fear issues, dog selectivity, cat aggression, resource guarding, and imperfect kennel behavior.

We stopped using the phrase “this dog has x, y, and z behavior issues, and he’s a pit bull.” Being labeled a “pit bull” is no longer considered Strike 1 for the dogs that are in our care.

On the adoptions side of things, we did away with the pit bull consult and the extra set of questions for people wanting to adopt pit bull types. We no longer require anything extra from those adopters compared to those who choose other types of dog to adopt. We dropped mandatory landlord checks, parent approval for adopters under 21, vet references, and child/dog intros. We still have these tools available when we feel they are warranted, but not as a blanket policy.

After Caitlin Quinn, AFF’s Director of Operations, came to our shelter and we started making changes for pit bulls, we began to question some of the other policies we had had for years. We came to the conclusion that we had been behind the times not just when it came to pit bulls, and we were able to implement changes to other areas as well.

Fewer restrictions on ALL adoptions mean more lives saved at CAHS

Fewer restrictions on ALL adoptions mean more lives saved at CAHS

How did the restrictions directly affect adoptions? Have you seen an increase in adoptions since they were removed?

Adoptions have increased. 2014 had just under 14% more adoptions than the previous year. We had our all time highest adoption month in October, and our all time highest adoption day in December during our annual holiday open house. We did 120 adoptions in one day, which is huge for us. Compare that to the previous year’s holiday open house where we did 25 adoptions.

Had we been requiring landlord checks, dog/child/cat intros, address verification, parent checks, vet references, etc. we wouldn’t have had enough time in the day to do 120 adoptions. The big worry was that we would get an influx of returns after dropping so many requirements, and we really haven’t seen that.

cahs kennel card

CAHS’s new breed-free kennel cards

You also made some changes to your kennel cards – they no longer list the breed of dog. Can you tell us more about your approach?

We tried to make our kennel cards easier to read, and give people more information about the individual dog they are looking at. So we have things like energy level, how they might do with kids, cats, and dogs, if they’re housebroken, where they came from, etc.

If someone wants to know what our breed guess is, they can ask the front desk. That way, when we’re telling them what breeds we did guess, we can also have the conversation about breed identification and why looks don’t predict behavior.

How have adopters responded to the change in kennel cards?

Before the new kennel cards debuted, we had several meetings and staff training sessions to prepare everyone for what to say when people asked about the breed. We figured there would be a ton of questions from people wondering why we omitted it from the kennel card, and frustrations about that. So we put them up after the holiday open house when our kennels were pretty empty to limit the outcry.

It all sounds so silly now, because the response ended up being basically no response.

We get occasional questions, but people are generally satisfied when we explain why we don’t know what breed most of our dogs are. Of course we will occasionally get that one person who demands we tell them the breed or thinks we’re trying to hide something, but it has been rare!

Thank you Ashley and the rest of CAHS for taking the time to share their experiences and what they’ve learned. 

We congratulate CAHS for all of their success – we know they’ll keep rocking it in 2015 and beyond! 

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Fair and Equal Treatment, Programs and Events | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Building Community: Announcing A Collaboration with the DCSPCA!

Drum roll please…Animal Farm Foundation is thrilled to (formally) announce our new collaboration with the Dutchess County SPCA in Hyde Park, New York!

This new addition to our programs here at AFF has been underway for a number of months, but we can finally spill the beans. Working with the DCSPCA is an exciting investment in our local animal shelter and our community here in New York State.

For years, we’ve collaborated with the DCSPCA informally, but in 2014, the two organizations saw an opportunity to come together to meet both of our missions for the benefit of pets and people in our area.

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As many of you know, AFF travels around the country speaking at conferences and doing on-site shelter consultations and presentations. These are excellent springboards for change, but we have to admit – we’re excited about the opportunity for the long term work that we can do by investing some of our resources in our local shelter.

By working side by side with the DCSPCA, we’re able to dig in deep, problem solve as challenges arise, and empower this fantastic organization to move forward into a brighter future for our community.

DCSPCA and AFF staff in the new building

DCSPCA and AFF staff in the new building

The DCSPCA is a limited admissions shelter just 40 minutes away from Animal Farm Foundation. As they geared up for some major changes in 2014, including moving into a new Adoption and Education Center facility, we were happy for the chance to collaborate with the new leadership, Executive Director Jackie Rose, and their hardworking staff, in order to support them in meeting their mission and vision for companion animals in our community.

The Mission and Vision of Dutchess County SPCA: We rescue, shelter, and secure permanent homes for adoptable companion animals; advocate for the highest standards of animal care; and enforce animal cruelty laws throughout Dutchess County. We envision a community in which there are caring, compassionate, respectful relationships between humans and animals, and all adoptable animals have loving homes.

We recognized that by collaborating with the DCSPCA, we would be able to not only help to meet their mission and ours – to secure equal treatment and opportunity for “pit bull” dogs – but that we would also be able to move closer to AFF’s long term vision in which ALL animals are recognized as individuals and equally valued. With missions that complement each other, the collaboration was a perfect fit!

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Today, AFF staff members are on site daily, assisting DCSPCA staff as they implement an array of new approaches to saving lives and caring for shelter pets. For example, under the direction of Bernice Clifford, our Director of Behavior and Training, members of our canine enrichment team are on site at the DCSPCA 7 days a week to help facilitate dog play groups during cleaning hours.

The dogs at the DCSPCA have always been treated as individuals (no breed-based blanket policies here!), but with the addition of more enrichment and regular play groups, the dogs are now more comfortable, mentally and physically, during their time at the shelter. Staff at the DCSPCA are also enjoying learning the ropes of play groups and are doing a fantastic job of implementing this new life saving tool!

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And we’re not just lending a hand with the dogs. AFF and the DCSPCA have put their heads together to increase cat adoptions and implement enrichment programs for the felines as well. AFF staff members are on site helping with adoption counseling for both cats and dogs these days, and the organization has recently moved to a conversation-driven, open adoption process.

Caitlin Quinn, our Director of Operations, has been working closely with the staff at the DCSPCA on marketing, communications, and policy updates. Recently both organizations teamed up with local photographers from HeARTs Speak for a photo shoot to help show off the fabulous pets available for adoption. We’ve also helped facilitate a total rebranding, complete with a new logo and focus on the joy and excitement that adopting a new pet brings to each family.


What does this mean for the dogs at our shelter here at AFF? We’re still taking in “pit bull” dogs from all over the country including cruelty situations, such as dog fighting busts. The difference now is that some of our kennels are temporary home to dogs (of all kinds) from the DCSPCA who need behavioral or medical support not available to them in the other facility. In exchange, the DCPSCA has been kind enough to host some of AFF’s shelter dogs on their adoption floor, which is much busier than our own small, rural shelter. The dogs are benefiting from having two locations and new potential adopters coming their way.

If you’re interested in adopting a dog from either group, we encourage you to fill out online adoption survey and we’d be happy to match you with your next family member. Additionally, our granting and education programs are still going strong.

Nothing is ending at AFF, we’re just diversifying!

With the animals and staff recently relocated to the brand new building – the official grand opening was 11/14 – we’ll continue to work together to empower the DCSPCA staff to be the best shelter they can be for our community!


Follow the DCSPCA on Facebook!

AFF’s Free Adoption and Marketing Resources For Shelters + Rescues

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Enrichment and Training, Programs and Events | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Raising Awareness: We’ve Come A Long Way!

Every October, groups around the country host a variety of “Pit Bull Awareness” events. These are positive, educational events. However, we know that language shapes how we perceive the world and, as animal welfare evolves, it’s important that we occasionally stop and take a critical look at how we frame “pit bull” dogs with our words.

So now seems like the right time to ask: How do we influence public perceptions of “pit bull” dogs when we ask people to be “aware” of them? Does this inspire them to adopt or think differently or does it continue to frame “pit bull” dogs as different than other dogs or a problem (“we have too many of them!”) that needs to be fixed?

Since Pit Bull Awareness Day began nearly a decade ago, there has been tremendous progress for “pit bull” dogs and the issues that affect their families. The simple truth is that, thanks to the tireless work of advocates over the past couple of decades, today things are truly better for the dogs labeled “pit bulls.”

Marilou Photos 025

For example, a decade ago, many animal shelters maintained discriminatory policies which banned any dog labeled “pit bull” from their adoption floors. Or, the dogs labeled “pit bull” were allowed on the adoption floor (sometimes a special locked section!), but only available to adopt under heavy blanket restrictions.

Today, as we travel around the country working with animal welfare organizations, we want you to know that these kinds of shelter breed bans and blanket policies are now the exception to the rule.

Do some shelters still implement policy based on breed labels? You bet. But the numbers are fading fast. Things are getting better every day for “pit bull” dogs at shelters.

A decade ago, “pit bull” dogs rescued from dog fighting operations were routinely held as evidence then euthanized, without evaluation.

Today, these victims of cruelty are recognized as individuals. Around the country, law enforcement and humane agencies are working together to serve the victims of these crimes. Increasingly, the dogs are receiving fair evaluations and the opportunity for adoption.

Furthermore, we now recognize that the overwhelming majority of “pit bull” dogs in our shelter system and communities have never been exposed to dog fighting.

A decade ago Breed Specific Legislation was on the rise and many communities were implementing poorly researched, ineffective, and discriminatory laws that banned any dog that was identified as a “pit bull”, regardless of the arbitrary label.

Today, BSL is on the decline with communities rejecting and repealing BSL at a higher rate than they’re passing it. Nearly 20 states have passed BSL pre-emptions at the state level.

Are there still communities that ban “pit bull” dogs? You bet. We still have work to do to ensure that every town, in every state, passes fair, effective laws that focus on responsible ownership, not breed or physical appearance. But have no doubt about it, we’re winning this battle.

In short, major changes have happened since Pit Bull Awareness Day began and the changes are for the better!

long way baby


Today, we know that “pit bull” dogs are one of the most popular dogs in the country, living with everyday families who love and care for them responsibly.

Today we know that the public is open to adopting “pit bull” dogs and, in many shelters, there is no delay in sending “pit bull” dogs home. The public wants to adopt them. The “only 1 in 600 pit bulls find a home” myth has been busted.

Today we have the scientific research and studies that document that all dogs, including “pit bull” dogs, are individuals. There is a far greater understanding of the fact that physical appearance and breed labels are not accurate predictors of behavior.

Today, we have statements from The White House to the AVMA to the American Bar Association stating their opposition to BSL.

Today the media is peppered with positive, accurate stories of “pit bull” dogs who contribute to our families and communities and win awards, as well as those who simply share their lives with the families who love them.

Perhaps it’s time, given all the changes in the past few years, to refresh how we talk about “pit bull” dogs every October so that it reflects how far we’ve come and invites the public to get in on the fun!

“Pit bull” dog advocates have done an amazing job of raising awareness about the unfair treatment and misinformation surrounding these dogs. And there is much work to be done in the years to come. But the successes are just too great to ignore.

We need to allow the wonderful progress that’s been made to influence our approach to how we talk about the dogs and the way we engage in public education.

So, as we continue to educate and work for fair shelter polices, non-discriminatory laws, housing, and insurance for “pit bull” dogs and their families, let’s invite the public to join us in the positive direction we’re already moving in.

2014 is a good time to reframe the way we call the public’s attention to “pit bull” dogs and their families every October. Rather than using this time to lament struggles, ring alarms, or ask for sympathy, we can shift the focus to how wonderful life is when we share it with our pets, including “pit bull” dogs. Let’s ask the public to join us in Pit Bull Celebration Days!


Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Breed Specific Legislation, Programs and Events | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Fighting BSL: How One Person Can Make a Difference

If you’ve ever thought that one person can’t make a difference, we encourage you to read this interview with Gerald “Jerry” Sager!  A lawyer originally from South Dakota, Jerry was a major force behind the 2014 passing of South Dakota’s SB 75 which bans breed specific legislation on the state level.

South Dakota joins 17 other states that now have preemptions in place, which prohibits municipalities from passing breed discriminatory laws. Best Friends Animal Society recently released this video about the legislative process for two recent preemptions, including South Dakota. You can watch that here.

Jerry did a great job researching stakeholder issues and laying the groundwork before the bill was introduced. The National Canine Research Council consulted with Jerry prior to the bill being introduced and they connected us to him for an interview because he’s a terrific example of how concerned citizens can make a BIG difference!


Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get involved in working for the BSL preemption in SD?

My wife and I owe the new South Dakota law to our “pit bull” dog mix, Chip, and our Doberman mix, Jeter.  We adopted Jeter from the local humane society and, one day, while on the way to law school class, I found Chip on the side of the road.  Then, not long after finding Chip, the town of Aberdeen, SD talked about a pit bull ban, and that is when the idea of a law prohibiting Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) came to us.  I researched that idea and learned that other states already had such a law. In November of 2011, StubbyDog ran an article about us that gives some insight into why and when my wife and I began to pursue this endeavor.


How did you get this particular process started?

Once my wife and I became fixated on the idea that people in government can enact regulations that ban and/or significantly adversely affect the owner(s) of a certain or perceived breed of dog, we began to thoroughly research everything that has to do with the issue. We researched everything we could think of, such as dog bite statistics, how dog bite statistics come about (what data/information is used to generate dog bite statistics), what type of effect do breed bans and other forms of breed specific legislation have and are they or are they not effective in reducing dog bites.  We wanted to learn every argument there is for breed specific legislation, and we wanted to know every argument against breed-specific legislation.

We knew we couldn’t be successful in getting a law passed prohibiting breed specific legislation if we didn’t know the facts ourselves, so we read and watched every resource we get ahold of, such as online resources, relevant books and magazines, and videos. In addition, we also researched what certain relevant organizations, like the American Veterinary Medical Association, have said regarding breed specific legislation.

We also looked up the wording of the statutes of states that at that time had a law prohibiting some form of breed specific legislation. Every resource proved to be very informative, especially the data compiled by the National Canine Research Council, Animal Farm Foundation, and Best Friends Animal Society.


You knew it would be important to engage all the stakeholders prior to the legislative session. Can you explain how you did this and why it was critical to the success of the bill?

We couldn’t have been successful if it weren’t for the certain people who have been working on this issue for a long time and gathering and putting together the needed information that we used to help backup our position. Eventually, we brought the idea of the bill that would prohibit breed specific legislation to a few legislators. Through my work as a legislative intern in 2006, I am acquainted with a few legislators, so I reached out to some of them hoping to get a feel for what kind of response such a bill would receive and to see if any of them would be receptive.

There was one Legislator who got the bill typed up and visited with quite a few legislators in 2013. But in the end, we got the sense that there was a lack of knowledge of the topic of BSL and general misconceptions. The legislator suggested we hire a lobbyist.

But we were already a quarter into the 2013 legislative session and up against the deadline to introduce bills, so we ultimately decided not to propose the bill. It was a tough decision, but we were told that if we did propose the bill and the bill was defeated, then it would be nearly impossible for the bill to ever have success in the future.

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In addition to reaching out to certain legislators, we also reached out to other individuals and organizations throughout South Dakota who we thought might be supportive and influential.

We contacted local animal shelters, veterinarians, the South Dakota Veterinary Medical Association, animal control, and a dog behaviorist.  These are local individuals and organizations that are considered experts and whose stance, one way or another, would likely be impactful.  Fortunately, pretty much everyone we contacted said they and/or their organization was supportive of our bill.

At this point we decided not to propose the bill during the 2013 legislative session and to gear up for the next legislative session instead. In 2014 I went to Pierre, SD and spent a week at the capitol visiting with legislators about the potential bill and letting them know that they would have an opportunity to vote on the bill during the upcoming legislative session.  I knew that time was limited when visiting with individual legislators, so my wife and I created a colored brochure that explained the bill, what it would accomplish, and its importance.

Later, I sent a personal letter to each legislator.  For the legislators with whom I personally visited, I thanked them for the opportunity to visit and for the legislators with whom I did not get the chance to visit, I explained why I was at the Capitol, included a copy of the brochure, and mentioned that I was looking forward to working with them in the upcoming session.


You wound up hiring a lobbyist. In our experience, this isn’t always a necessity, but it did make the difference in this situation. How were you able to secure the funding to take this approach?

Following the time at the Capitol the next step was to find the lobbyist. We eventually found a lobbyist who was a former South Dakota Attorney General, and respected amongst the legislators.  Acquiring the funding for the lobbyist was a little difficult.  To secure funding, I reached out to every organization you could think of and everyone was supportive, but no one could contribute funds.  Eventually Best Friends Animal Society was able to help.

Because Best Friends is involved with many legislative issues throughout the country, they had to make sure they would have the funding available and that success in South Dakota was actually viable.

Because my wife and I had done a significant amount of groundwork and, basically, the only thing we were missing was a lobbyist, they were able to secure funding. Best Friends was also able to testify in both committee hearings on behalf of the bill.

See our full BSL Map here

See our full BSL Map here

Where there any unexpected challenges that you encountered during this process?

There were a few challenges.  Most, if not all of the legislators, had never heard about breed specific legislation and when introduced to the idea of a bill that would prohibit breed specific legislation, they initially thought BSL did make sense because of their preconceived ideas about “pit bull” dogs.

In addition, most legislators wrestled with the issue of local control. When that happens, the argument for local control comes into play to protect the peoples’ right(s) and privileges.  Here, however, our bill was trying to give the people more rights, or at least preserve their rights, and, therefore local government doesn’t come into play.

Moreover, most bills enacted into law affects local control, therefore, the argument that a bill takes away local control can be used on almost every bill.  So the two main hurdles we encountered during the bill’s legislative process were the local control issue and the preconceived notion that certain dogs are dangerous.


What advice would you give to other concerned citizens who would like to get involved with BSL preemptions in their states?

My suggestion is to just get started and research the issue by reading and watching everything that is relevant.  Getting a bill passed is hard; you have to do your homework.  I would also start reaching out to individuals and organizations that appear would be supportive of the bill and whose support would be influential when the bill is in front of legislators.  In our case, some of the local experts that we contacted were willing to reach out to their legislators and testify on behalf of the bill. This definitely helped the bill to pass.

And put in face time. After SB 75 passed, I was told by a legislator that the time I spent circulating with legislators the previous year was beneficial because the legislators remembered visiting with me about the bill.

Once the bill was proposed, the bill was no longer a secret and the media jumped on it, but, by that time, we had laid the ground work and it was time for the legislative process to do its thing.

Congratulations on a job well done Jerry. Thank you for talking with us and for all your hard work!

Posted in Breed Specific Legislation | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

How Does Your Organization Influence The Public’s Actions?


“No one wants to adopt our “pit bull” dogs.” In our work with shelters around the country, it’s not uncommon to hear some version of this statement. When we hear this, we like to jump in to offer what we know works to boost adoptions – better policies, welcoming adoption counseling, kennel enrichment, positive marketing. You name it; we have a free resource to help organizations increase adoptions.

Today we wanted to share something a little different. It’s what we know to be true from years of working with every type of shelter – large and small, public and private – and helping them to increase adoptions and save more lives.

Here it is:

If an organization values “pit bull” dogs, then the public will follow their lead. We have the ability to influence the outcome.

When we think that no one wants or values these dogs, then we wind up communicating and behaving as if that is true. This can get in the way of making changes that will lead to positive outcomes.

Instead, we can shift our perspective so that it reflects a more accurate view of the public and potential adopters. Given the millions of people who own “pit bull” dogs in this country, we now know that there are tons of great families that already value these dogs as much as we do.

To say that no one wants “those” dogs, just isn’t true these days.

Copper Alumni

Copper and his three bros

What if we allowed the knowledge that millions of people highly value “pit bull” dogs to serve as a foundation for our work? How would it change how we communicated to the public about the dogs?

If we choose to stick with the narrative that “pit bull” dogs aren’t wanted, then we are working from a place of defensiveness, fear, and disbelief in the possibility of success. And we wind up communicating mixed messages about the value of “pit bull” dogs to the public which may drive down adoptions.

Saying (internally or publicly) that “no one wants these dogs, we have so many of them!” lowers the value of the pets in our care. The public notices and will follow our lead.

Good news: We have the ability to influence the outcome.  

The question is how do we want to influence the public? Do we want to create a self-fulfilled prophesy where they continue to disappoint and live up to the low bar we’ve set for them? Or do we want to inspire them to be a critical part of a positive outcome in our community?

Alumni Florence Nightengale

Florence Nightingale flying high with her dad

Our ability to influence the outcome is a real phenomenon known as the Pygmalion Effect. Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between leader expectations (the shelter) and the follower’s (the public) performance. Positive expectations influence outcomes positively and negative expectations influence outcomes negatively.

The Pygmalion Effect has been studied in classrooms and revealed that if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from a random group of children, then those children did indeed show that enhancement. From the researchers who coined the term Pygmalion Effect:

“When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985)

This observer-expectancy effect shows that biased expectancies (ie: no one wants our “pit bull” dogs) can affect reality and create self-fulfilling prophecies as a result.

In other words, our expectations of others can influence what actually happens.

This influence can lead to a positive or negative outcome, depending on how we (the leaders) classify and communicate about the animals. Valuable/Not Valuable. Popular/Kennel trash. Wanted/Unwanted.

If your organization values all animals equally and communicates that “valuable” status to the public, you will be setting the expectancy that your adopters will value them too. And time and again, we’ve seen that they will!

Alumni Ada and Fam

Ada’s family portrait

Of course, we know that there can be real challenges to increasing adoptions and, in certain areas, a resistance from some members of the public to adopting “pit bull” dogs. We understand that in some areas, shelters may need to work harder than others in their marketing and adoption efforts. We want to help and we have resources to assist you. But we’ve found that the resources are way more effective when they’re rooted in the belief that improvement is possible.

Very little, if anything, will improve if we don’t: value the animals in our care equally, examine our own assumptions and personal biases, and believe that the public wants and values “pit bull” dogs too.

In practice this means: Drop policies and marketing that communicate that some animals are “less adoptable” than others. Treat all of the animals equally from intake to adoption. Step up customer service, positive marketing and outreach efforts, and kennel enrichment. In other words, create the conditions for adoptions to happen!

Alumni Flo and Family

Flo’s  family portrait


“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

– Henry Ford

In what ways do you want to be proved right? We vote for being right that the public is awesome and excited to adopt your wonderful “pit bull” dogs!

Still not sure this will work? We invite you to watch this excellent video from KC Pet Project. With very few resources and significant challenges, this open admissions shelter values all their animals equally and they believe that they can increase their positive outcomes without relying on restrictions or assumptions about what the public wants. It’s working for them, for others around the country, and it will work for you!


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The Majority Project: New Tools To Stop “Pit Bull” Dog Owner Discrimination

When Animal Farm Foundation put out a call for photo submissions from everyday “pit bull” dog owners we never imagined that a little over a year later we’d have a (still growing) collection of hundreds and hundreds of photos.

The Majority Project is the result of those photos, submitted from families around the country who stepped up to help challenge incorrect stereotypes about “pit bull” dog owners.

I am an advocate

I am an advocate

You might be wondering: Why do we need to bust stereotypes about “pit bull” dog OWNERS? Isn’t it the dogs that are being discriminated against?

It’s both. Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) singles out dogs based on physical appearance and breed, but anytime we discriminate against a dog, we are discriminating against the people who share their lives with them as well.

I am a 911 Police + Fire Dispatch Officer

I am a 911 Police + Fire Dispatch Officer


And to be frank, sometimes BSL has little to do with the dogs at all. Targeting the dogs is simply a way to profile and discriminate against people. For example, on numerous occasions, policymakers have commented that BSL isn’t necessary because the dogs are dangerous, but instead they believe (falsely) that BSL is way to to keep gang members and criminals out of their communities.

Colorado: Aurora, CO, City Council member Bob Fitzgerald, “We don’t want ‘those people’ here.”


Massachusetts: Councilor-at-Large Michael J. Germain, “Germain said that common sense tells us pit bulls are the choice of gang members to intimidate. ‘The issue isn’t dogs. The issue is gangs,’ he said.”


California: Mayor Rex Parris, “I want gangs out of Lancaster. I want to make it uncomfortable for them to be here. Anything they like, I want to take it away from them. I want to deliberately harass them…It’s really like [gangs] having a weapon that they are allowed to display and intimidate people. If they have a Pit Bull, they may as well put a sign on their head saying, ‘Come get me.’…If they move on to cats I’m going to take their cats.”

I am a cat

I am a cat


Experts know that stereotyping and discrimination fails to address the real issue: criminals and reckless dog owners must be held accountable for their actions, no matter what kind of dog they choose to own. It is never necessary or effective to use discrimination as a tool to address crime and reckless dog ownership.

Enacting and enforcing Responsible Dog Ownership laws which apply equally to ALL dog owners, along with laws addressing non-dog related criminal activities, is the path to safety.

Great communities don’t resort to ineffective policies based on stereotypes and discrimination.

I am a police officer

I am a police officer


This kind of human stereotyping also worms its way into shelter polices and is used to justify banning “pit bull” dogs from the adoption floor or restricting adoptions. The “logic” is that if only “bad” people want them, then “pit bull” dogs are better off dead than in their hands. Where would shelters get the idea that good people don’t want “pit bull” dogs? From animal welfare organizations.

ASPCA: “Pit Bulls often attract the worst kind of dog owners —people who are only interested in these dogs for fighting or protection.”

PETA: “…people who have good intentions rarely come to a shelter to adopt pit bulls; almost without exception, those who want pit bulls are attracted to the “macho” image of the breed as a living weapon and seek to play up this image by putting the animals in heavy chains, taunting them into aggression, and leaving them outside in all weather extremes in order to “toughen” them.”

I am a public safety officer + I am an early childhood professional

I am a public safety officer + I am an early childhood professional


So what does this have to do with The Majority Project?

The false assertion that only reckless individuals, criminals, and gang members want “pit bull” dogs continues to fuel the fire of restrictive adoption policies, breed specific legislation, and other discriminatory policies.

From law makers to shelter policymakers, the stereotype is that “good” people don’t want or live with “pit bull” dogs. That’s simply not true.

I am a Sunday school teacher

I am a Sunday school teacher


The fact is that dogs labeled “pit bull” are one of the most popular dogs in this country, overwhelmingly owned by normal, everyday families who have value in their community. “Pit bull” dog owners are our co-workers, friends, family, and neighbors.

It’s time to put an accurate face to the average “pit bull” dog owner, so that stereotypes about “pit bull” dog owners can no longer be used as justification for discriminatory shelter policies and legislation.

We are a family!

We are a family!


The everyday “pit bull” dog owners who took part in The Majority Project stood up to say that they are not the exception, they are the rule. You can meet them all here.

We want YOU to use The Majority Project to stand up against discrimination and prejudice in your community. And we’ve got some new tools to help!

  • Our brand new handout shows off just a few of the fabulous families who submitted photos. From doctors and deacons, to grandmas and voters, the handout shines a light on them all. The foldout combines their family photos with text to help everyone understand why great communities don’t discriminate. You can request the handout here. 
majority photo foldout

Advocates and animal welfare organizations can receive free handouts here.


  • To help you share The Majority Project more effectively, here are Talking Points to use in your communications. You can download and print the one sheet from this blog or from our website here.


  • Our newest eBook on Communications and Media is also here to help. This primer on communicating with elected officials and the media – from TV interviews to testifying at city council meetings – was designed to assist you in speaking confidently and effectively about the issues that matter.
I am a blessed mom

I am a blessed mom


Of course, you can also use the Flickr Album and videos. If you know an organization or an individual that needs to meet the majority of “pit bull” dogs owners, you can share these tools and introduce them to the majority. They may be AFF’s photos and videos, but they’re tools you can all use, so please do!

I am a security guard

I am a security officer


Finally: Keep the photos coming! Tell your friends to send in their “I am the Majority” photos. We’ll never stop accepting new photos. The more we collect, the more impact this project will have. Learn how to submit a photo here.

Help us put an end to the stereotypes that fuel the fires of discrimination. Stand up with The Majority.

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Breed Specific Legislation, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

All Dogs Are Individuals [INFOGRAPHIC]: FrenchTranslation

In this infographic Animal Farm Foundation looked at the science and research on the subject of canine genetics and behavior. What we found is simple: All Dogs Are Individuals.

Dans ce résumé graphique, Animal Farm Foundation explore la science et les recherches concernant la génétique et les comportements canins. Notre conclusion est simple : chaque chien est différent.

Despite how a dog may look on the outside or what their breed or breed mix may be, research reveals that dogs are complex animals influenced by many factors. Looks alone do not dictate behavior.

Peu importe l’apparence d’un chien, sa race ou son mélange de races, les recherches révèlent que les chiens sont des animaux complexes influencés par de nombreux facteurs. L’apparence à elle seule ne détermine pas le comportement.

Recognizing and understanding dogs as individuals is important for our families and communities. It means that every dog must be judged and evaluated for their actual behavior, rather than on assumptions, generalizations, and stereotypes based on breed or looks. And all dog owners must be held equally accountable.

Il est important pour nos familles et nos communautés qu’elles reconnaissent et comprennent chaque chien de façon individuelle. Cela signifie que chaque chien doit être évalué et jugé pour son comportement réel, et non en fonction des hypothèses, généralisations et des stéréotypes liés à l’apparence ou la race. Et tous les propriétaires de chien doivent être tenus tout aussi responsables.












Want to share the infographic?

You can find the full graphic in English here. If you’d like to add the infographic to your website or blog, just cut and paste the embed code (at the bottom of this page). A preview image of the infographic will appear on your site!


Vous voulez partager le résumé graphique?

Vous trouverez le graphique complet ici. Si vous désirez ajouter le résumé graphique à votre site Web ou votre blogue, il vous suffit de copier et coller le code intégré (au bas de la présente page). Un aperçu du résumé graphique apparaîtra sur votre site!


Thank you to Véronique Allard for translating the infographic!



The Dog and It’s Genome by Elaine Ostrander

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog by Scott and Fuller

National Geographic

Kristopher J. Irizarry, PhD

Janis Bradley, The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog

Dr. Victoria Voith


Brachycephalic traits

Morphological traits

Brain development genes

Cranial facial development and here

Canine skull development


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Posted in Adoption and Marketing, Breed Specific Legislation, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Buck Stops Here: Ending The Cycle Of Canine Discrimination

We really love “pit bull” dogs here at AFF. To accomplish our mission, we work to remove discriminatory policies in shelters, in our law books, and much more. But here’s the secret to our work: it doesn’t just benefit “pit bull” dogs.

The overarching goal for us is not only to fulfill our mission to secure equal treatment and opportunity for any dog labeled “pit bull”, but to put an end to canine discrimination – for ALL dogs.

If we do our jobs right when it comes to “pit bull” dogs, then we effectively put an end to all the myths, misconceptions, and misinformation that form the basis for any discriminatory practice and policy against any dog.

In other words, done right, the discrimination buck stops here.

We’re thinking big picture!

We don’t just want to convince lawmakers that Breed Specific Legislation is bad for “pit bull” dogs and their families. We want lawmakers to understand that discriminating against any dog based on looks and breed is always ineffective and wrong.

That’s because what’s true for “pit bull” dogs is also true for ALL dogs (“pit bull” dogs are just dogs, after all!).

  • No dog has a locking jaw.
  • No group of dogs is inherently dangerous.
  • No community is made safer when dogs are banned based on their physical appearance of breed label.
  • No group of dogs needs blanket adoption restrictions placed on them, based only on their appearance or breed.

All dogs are individuals. When we say that, we really mean ALL dogs. Not just “pit bull” dogs.

This is important for all of us to think about because if we don’t do our jobs well now, then there will be a different group of dogs that gets singled out for discrimination, just as Rottweilers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and “pit bull” dogs have already been.

Eventually, there will be a different group of dogs that are unfairly saddled with restricted adoption policies or bans in our communities. That is the nature of stereotypes, scapegoating, and discrimination – they move from one target to the next.

No stereotypes allowed in this play group!

No stereotypes allowed in this play group!


So although our work starts with “pit bull” dogs – because they need us right now – it ends with raising the bar for the way we understand canines as a whole, so that no other group of dogs can ever be discriminated against in the future.

Ending the cycle of discrimination means we help communities, politicians, and shelters understand that every dog must be evaluated as an individual, that communities are safest when our laws put the responsibility on the owner, and that adoptions are successful when we stop making assumptions about a dog based on their looks or breed label.

If we do our jobs right for “pit bull” dogs, then every dog, family, and community will benefit because it will finally be understood – once and for all – that a dog can’t be judged by looks or breed alone and that policies based on that line of flawed thinking are always doomed to fail us.

We challenge those of you who love and advocate for “pit bull” dogs to join us in Big Picture Thinking.

That means: Be mindful about how you talk about other dogs. If we are asking the public and policy makers not to rely on stereotypes about “pit bull” dogs or to judge them by their looks or breed label, then we must refrain from doing the exact same thing about other dogs.

If we do not treat ALL dogs as individuals, then we are perpetuating the thinking that will one day lead to serious consequences for other dogs. Another group of dogs and their families will suffer because we failed to advance our collective understanding about dogs.

So the next time you catch yourself making a joke about how Chihuahuas “are more likely to bite than a pit bull” or make a generalization that ALL Malinois need “owners with breed experience” (sound familiar?), we ask that you take a step back to reflect on this cycle of discrimination.

Chihuahuas are individuals too! Available for adoption through Our Pack

Chihuahuas are individuals too!   Jack is available for adoption through Our Pack


It does not help “pit bull” dogs when we speak negatively of other dogs.

It does not lift “pit bull” dogs up when we put another group of dogs down.

It’s a mistake to think that pointing fingers or generalizing about other dogs isn’t harmful. It may not be immediately obvious, but there are consequences. It undermines ALL dogs when we allow prejudicial thoughts, stereotyping, and finger-pointing to be perpetuated.

It allows the false belief that we can generalize about any dog – based only on their breed or physical appearance – to continue to exist. And that is the fuel that feeds the fires of discrimination.

Nineteen states already understand that treating all dogs as individuals applies to all dogs. Statewide BSL preemptions are being passed more and more frequently. While this seems like a victory for “pit bull” dogs, we urge you to see this as a victory for all dogs.

It means that in those states, there will be no other group of dogs that follows “pit bull” dogs in the long chain of canines that have been persecuted and banned over the past 100+ years.

We challenge all of you to examine your language not just when speaking about “pit bull “ dogs, but whenever you talk about dogs of any kind. Bring awareness to how you may be perpetuating the cycle of discriminatory thinking by making generalizations, pointing fingers, and perpetuating stereotypes.

our pack

No generalizations allowed at this group nap! Photo Credit: Our Pack


If we do this right today, then no one will ever have to go before a town council to fight breed specific legislation again – not for “pit bull” dogs and not for any other dog.

If we do this right, then one will ever have to fight to get another group of dogs onto the adoption floor.

We’ll have shown the world that fair, equal treatment of all dogs is the ONLY way. The right way.

We can secure this only when we promote this basic truth: All dogs are individuals first and foremost.

The cycle of discrimination ends with your help. The discrimination buck stops here.

Posted in Breed Specific Legislation, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

All Dogs Are Individuals [INFOGRAPHIC]: Spanish Translation

In this infographic Animal Farm Foundation looked at the science and research on the subject of canine genetics and behavior. What we found is simple: All Dogs Are Individuals.

En esta gráfica informativa, Animal Farm Foundation exploró la ciencia e investigación en relación al tema de la genética y el comportamiento canino. Lo que descubrimos fue simple: Cada Perro es un Individuo.

Despite how a dog may look on the outside or what their breed or breed mix may be, research reveals that dogs are complex animals influenced by many factors. Looks alone do not dictate behavior.

Sin importar la apariencia, o bien, la raza o mezcla de razas a las que un perro pertenezca, investigaciones recientes demuestran que los perros son animales complejos influenciados por varios factores. La apariencia no indica únicamente al comportamiento.

Recognizing and understanding dogs as individuals is important for our families and communities. It means that every dog must be judged and evaluated for their actual behavior, rather than on assumptions, generalizations, and stereotypes based on breed or looks. And all dog owners must be held equally accountable.

Es de suma importancia para nuestras familias y comunidades el reconocer y comprender a los perros como individuos. Esto significa que cada perro debe ser juzgado y evaluado por su verdadero comportamiento, en lugar de asumir, generalizar o basarnos en estereotipos, raza o apariencia. Y los dueños de cada perro debe tener la misma responsabilidad.













Want to share the infographic?

You can find the full graphic here in English. If you’d like to add the infographic to your website or blog, just cut and paste the embed code (at the bottom of this page). A preview image of the infographic will appear on your site! And for a more detailed look at the English version of the infographic, please see this post. 

¿Quisieras compartir esta gráfica informativa?

Puedes encontrar la gráfica informativa completa aquí. Si quieres añadir la gráfica informativa en tu página web o blog, sólo copia y pega el código (se encuentra hasta abajo de esta página). ¡Una vista previa de la gráfica informativa aparecerá en tu sitio web!


Thank you to Natalia Martinez of Design Lab Creative Studio for designing and translating the infographic!



The Dog and It’s Genome by Elaine Ostrander

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog by Scott and Fuller

National Geographic

Kristopher J. Irizarry, PhD

Janis Bradley, The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog

Dr. Victoria Voith


Brachycephalic traits

Morphological traits

Brain development genes

Cranial facial development and here

Canine skull development


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Posted in Breed Specific Legislation, Fair and Equal Treatment | Tagged , | Leave a comment